She is Radha, AKA Dolly: a middle-aged, middle-class housewife living in Noida, a mediocre city, with her mediocre husband and two young children. Her cousin is Kaajal, AKA Kitty: an ambitious, starry-eyed girl from a lower caste in Bihar, who comes to Noida to escape the limitations of her life. Played by Konkone Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar respectively, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, released 4 years after her successful film, Lipstick Under My Burkha. Out on Netflix as of 18 September 2020, the movie is officially available for online streaming.
Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare has a plot that begins on firm ground, and then wavers off into uncertain terrain. Without giving too much away, the story revolves around the interior lives of two women — something that Alankrita Shrivastava is always excellent at portraying — and the chamakte sitaare that they dream of. Dolly just dreams of living more than her drab middle-class life. She wants more than a husband with whom she cannot have sex, a job in whcih she is treated inferior to the men, and a bigger apartment in a nicer complex. Kitty, on the other hand, just needs to get by. Her need for independence comes at a price, for she lives in a world where women are mocked, oppressed and belittled for existing.
Both of them are transgressive in their own ways. Dolly drinks whiskey when nobody is watching, she steals money from her office so she can move into an upscale building, and she forms a relationship with Osmaan, a delivery boy and MBA student. Kitty lives off her own money, quits her job at a factory to save her dignity, and works at a phonesex call centre. Although her job makes her throw up in the beginning, she prefers it to the inhumane treatment of workers in a factory. This was a smart critique of capitalism.
While the two characters are constructed carefully and appear realistic and authentic, little else of the movie comes across that way. The plot becomes predictable: of course Dolly, the bored housewife, develops feelings for the sweet and innocent delivery boy. Of course Kitty ends up learning that her phonesex job gives dignity by providing her with a stable income. Of course Osmaan has to die. Of course Kitty has to fall in love with a client who then betrays her. Drawing on earlier films that tackle bored housewives and phonesex call centres (The Lunchbox, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Dream Girl, Tumhari Sullu), Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare doesn’t really show us anything new or different.
Events take place in an almost random order. Once Dolly and Kitty’s lives are separated, the thread that holds the plot together becomes unraveled, leaving the audience with frayed ends that simply don’t tie up. Too many side plots distract from the main one — or distract from the fact that there is no main one — what with Dolly’s queer son, her mommy issues, her patriarchal colleagues at the workplace, Kitty’s friend Shazia’s DJ boyfriend’s Hindutva brother, and the fact that religious divides plague the women’s lives as well. We would have loved to see more of Dolly’s fucked up relationship with her mother, which perhaps explains why she’s so high-strung. Why would Kitty end up hooking up with Shazia’s DJ boyfriend? Why would Osmaan, a Noida-based MBA student and delivery boy quote William Blake of all people to Dolly — that too after sex? These things just don’t add up, leaving us with awkward, even cringe-worthy scenes and dialogues (like Osmaan thanking Dolly post-sex). The film ends up playing out like a random assortment of jigsaw puzzle pieces whose edges just don’t fit together.
The true merit of Dolly Kitty lies in Konkona Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar’s acting skills. They portray their characters with sensitivity and understanding, bringing them to life authentically. We would have loved to have seen more Dolly+Kitty moments as their chemistry was on fire, and they empower each other and tear each other down in exciting, dramatic fashion. Perhaps if the script stayed where the characters are, explored the ruthless developing city of Noida and how it affects Dolly and Kitty’s assertion of identity, and agency over their bodies and sexuality, we would have watched a much tighter, compact film.
Until then, we’ll have to make do with its loose ends and predictable narratives.